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The Best Death Metal Bands

Updated November 25, 2019 31.5k votes 3.2k voters 79.7k views155 items

List RulesWhile similar, black metal and thrash metal bands should not be included on this list of death metal bands. Be sure to only add bands that fall within death metal before all else.

Not to be confused with thrash metal and black metal, though both of which are instrumental in shaping its sound, death metal is one of the most popular subgenres of heavy metal. Known for its distorted guitars, aggressive drumming, and growling and screaming vocals, death metal emerged in the 1980s in Florida and is still one of the best metal genres today. Lyrically, death metal addresses exactly what you'd expect the genre to focus on. Satanism, the occult, religion, politics, mysticism and science fiction have all found their into death metal bands' lyrics. The best death metal bands have cult followings and among heavy metal bands, their fanbases are among the most rabid.

So, what are the best death metal bands? Well, bands like Death, Cannibal Corpse and Morbid Angel are at or near the top of the death metal bands list and deservedly so. They are among the most popular death metal bands and among death metal bands, are generally the most talked about bands within death metal. While many of the death metal bands on here achieved most of their success during the early 1990s, they were never considered mainstream metal bands. The lack of commercial appeal has allowed death metal bands to retain a strong base.

That said, it's up to you to determine what are the best death metal bands. If you notice someone on this list who is missing, feel free to add any death metal band that should be on this poll. This list answers the questions "who are the best death metal bands of all time?" and "who is the greatest death metal musician ever?" If you know enough about the genre, please vote based on the quality of the band's music instead of just voting for the most popular death metal bands that you might've heard of. 

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    Exhumed is an American death metal band from San Jose, California that is currently signed to Relapse Records and centered around guitarist/vocalist Matt Harvey. The band has released six albums and over a dozen of split 7" singles. They were formed in 1990, went on hiatus in 2005, and reformed in 2010.

    They made a cameo as themselves at the end of an episode of Adult Swim's The Eric André Show.


    Early history (1990–2000)

    Exhumed formed in 1990, when founding member Matt Harvey was 15 years old. Exhumed spent much of the ensuing decade releasing numerous demos, split CDs, and EPs. Harvey explained that he was influenced by Carcass, Impetigo, Repulsion and Terrorizer as well as early albums by Entombed.

    The band recorded their debut album Gore Metal in 1998. The album blended death metal and grindcore and influenced later bands who played the same type of music. Harvey said that Gore Metal was the album where Exhumed developed its vision, although he conceded that "we were still very loose and sloppy and didn't really have a handle on recording at all. Listening back to that record, I like most of the songs, but the production is awful sounding."Harvey said the band recorded several songs for the album that were lost when producer James Murphy, then suffering from brain cancer and acting "erratically", was evicted from his studio in Oakland.

    Middle period and hiatus (2001–2009)

    This led to the band touring the United States and making several festival appearances. The band's line-up continued to change during and after the release of their second album, Slaughtercult, in August 2000. Harvey said that Slaughtercult was "the album where we came closest to achieving our goal – just a brutal, simple, direct group of songs that were very up-front and live sounding." He further noted the band's pride over the lack of double bass on the album, in contrast to contemporary death metal trends. In support of Slaughtercult, the band did three US tours, and their first proper European tour, including co-headlining festivals like Fuck the Commerce and Obscene Extreme. The band also appeared at the Wacken Open Air festival.

    The band evolved further with their third album, Anatomy Is Destiny (2003), which added more sophisticated arrangements, production and instrumentation. Bassist Leon del Muerte replaced Bud Burke soon after the album was recorded. Harvey described the album as "a big step forward", but retrospectively criticized the album for its lack of memorable choruses. He said of Anatomy Is Destiny, "in many ways it's our best album, but in just as many, we missed the mark on a bunch of things."

    Co-founder and drummer Col Jones departed Exhumed in 2003, which affected the creative chemistry of the band. Harvey recalled, "After he (Jones) left it was a big adjustment. I was trying to run shit on my own creatively and logistically. The anatomy of the band just dissolved and everything fell apart." As Harvey attempted to rebuild the line-up, Exhumed issued a double CD compilation of their early recordings titled Platters of Splatter. After touring North America, Europe, Japan, and Australia, guitarist Mike Beams departed and new guitarist Wes Caley and drummer Matt Connell made their debut. Exhumed then completed recording an album of cover songs titled Garbage Daze Re-Regurgitated. Harvey later explained that the album was intended as a "stopgap" album, although the band's subsequent hiatus put the band on hold longer than planned. Harvey later recalled:

    I was pretty burnt on Exhumed. The fact that the band hadn't really gotten any bigger from album to album, along with the Anatomy line-up falling apart were really frustrating, especially in light of how much work we had done. I felt like without Col in Exhumed, the band didn't really have any credibility any more, and I was just tired of teaching new people the songs and hoping that they would "get" where the band was coming from.

    During the hiatus, Harvey played in Dekapitator, Gravehill, and Scarecrow. Harvey, later remarking that "the passion for music didn't go away but my passion for Exhumed went away", came to regret that the band's last recording would be a covers album and, feeling rejuvenated, decided to reform Exhumed to record a new studio album.

    Reunion (2010–present)

    In an interview conducted shortly after announcing that Exhumed would reform, Harvey remarked that "After a few years off and away from the death metal scene, I feel rejuvenated and ready to hack, maim and kill once again. I wanted this to be a continuation of what the band was doing and was on its way to doing, not a reunion or some weird nostalgia thing."

    In 2010, the band recorded All Guts, No Glory. The album line up was Harvey on guitars and high vocals, del Muerte on bass and low vocals, Caley on guitar and Danny Walker on drums. The musical approach taken on All Guts, No Glory was, according to Harvey, intentionally based on the band members' favoured elements of previous Exhumed records: "We all agreed that the period of Exhumed we liked the best was Slaughtercult and wanted to mix that with the technicality and melody of Anatomy."

    The band toured extensively, although del Muerte and Walker left the band to complete Murder Construct's debut album. They were replaced by Bob Babcock and Mike Hamilton (Deeds of Flesh), respectively.

    In 2012, guitarist Caley was replaced by Bud Burke, and the band recorded Necrocracy, which was released by Relapse Records on August 2, 2013. Harvey described the album as being "not quite as fast" as All Guts, No Glory.

    On November 6, 2014, the band appeared on the season 3 premiere of The Eric Andre Show.

    In November 2014 Matt Ferri replaced Rob Babcock on bass.

    In 2015 Matt Ferri left and Ross Sewage rejoined the band on bass.


    Over the years of their existence, Exhumed's approach to songwriting has become increasingly traditional in its structure. Main songwriter Matt Harvey said:

    On any song that we're writing, the first thing I think is, "Where's the chorus? What's the chorus? Where's the hook?" Then we've got something to build around. I'm very into the regular pop format of verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-verse-chorus and variations thereof. To me, the chorus has to be the thing that grabs me and hooks me in – especially in death metal, because there's no vocal melody. Yeah, you've got riffs, but you have to have something to hook the listener in, to bring them back, to keep them listening again and again and again. That's really the goal, to create music that I would want to listen to five years later. For me, it's all about choruses and trying to write catchy songs.


    Exhumed's lyrics focus on gore themes. However, the band uses this thematic lens in an allegorical fashion. Lyricist Matt Harvey said:

    One thing I like about gore is that it gives you a set of aesthetics to work with to use as an allegory or metaphor. Even as far back as the first album, a lot of the songs are metaphors for different things. We have songs about consumerism and songs about relationships and songs about politics. Instead of me coming off like a whiny bitch complaining about society, I'm able to put it across in a way that's really allegorical and has its own entertainment value without having any deeper context...the gore metaphor keeps me from becoming a preachy, pretentious douchebag.

    On Necrocracy, Harvey wrote lyrics that applied the gore theme to political subject matter, such as a critique of American corporatism and consumerism.



    Matt Harvey – guitar, vocals (1990–present)

    Michael Hamilton – drums (2011–present)

    Bud Burke – bass, vocals (1999–2003), guitar, vocals (2012–present)

    Ross Sewage - bass, vocals (1994-1999, 2015–present)


    Mike Beams – guitar, vocals (1998–2005)

    Derrel Houdashelt – guitar (1991–1996)

    Leon del Muerte – guitar (1996–1997), bass, vocals (2003–2006, 2010–2011)

    Rob Babcock - bass, vocals (2012-2014)

    Jake Giardina – bass, vocals (1992–1993)

    Ben Marrs – bass (1991)

    Colten Lavallee – bass (1993)

    Matt Widener – bass (1994–1995)

    Steve Szakowski – bass, vocals (1995–1996)

    Matt Connell – drums (2005)

    Col Jones – drums (1990–2003)

    John Longstreth – drums (2004)

    Lorin Ashton – bass (session, 1995)

    Danny Walker – drums (2010-2011)

    Wes Caley - guitar (2005-2012)

    Matt Ferri - bass, vocals (2014-2015)

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List Rules: While similar, black metal and thrash metal bands should not be included on this list of death metal bands. Be sure to only add bands that fall within death metal before all else.